My grandfather’s letter to János Kádár

My grandfather fled Hungary in January 1957, never to return, but his young family stayed behind. Between 1954 and 1956, he was a prisoner sentenced to hard labour at the coal mine near the village of Csolnok, in northwestern Hungary, after having been found guilty of conspiring against the state. He fled to Canada in 1957 and from his new home in Vancouver, he spent the next seven years pleading with Hungarian authorities, and anyone who would listen, to allow his wife and children to join him. Hungarian authorities did not grant my grandmother a passport, as they argued that only in the People’s Republic of Hungary would her children have a safe and certain future. It took over seven years for his wife and children to be granted permission to leave Hungary and join him in Canada. I translated one of my grandfather’s letters to Hungary’s leader, János Kádár, into English (the original Hungarian version is available here) and I am sharing it with HFP’s readers, on the 59th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. 


My grandfather in Vancouver, in the fall of 1960.

My grandfather in Vancouver, in the fall of 1960.

I know that it is inappropriate to bother a head of state with private letters, and for this I would like to first of all apologize. But it is my complete desperation around my family’s and children’s future that convinced me to write this letter after all. I am a family man, of Hungarian origins, living in Canada, whose family remains in Hungary. I left my homeland following the events of 1956 and not because I wanted to remove myself from my obligations as a father, but in order to support them and bring them here, with the approval of both my new and my old homeland.

Unfortunately, up until now, these efforts have failed. My family has long received a visa from Canadian authorities, but has not been issued a passport by Hungary. My wife’s passport application was rejected because, according to Hungarian authorities, “the future of the children was guaranteed in Hungary, rather than in Canada, so it is in their best interest to stay at home.”

Now that my 13 year old daughter has finished elementary school, she would like to study further, but she is being hindered by Hungarian authorities. She cannot attend technical school, nor high school.

The reason for this is that I, her father, was arrested by Hungarian State Security in 1954 for conspiring against the state. The courts sentenced me to six years in prison, in a closed hearing, where the judge warned me in advance to only answer his questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I was not allowed to say anything for my final words.

I served two years and three days of this sentence, at which point during the revolution, with a letter of release signed by the prosecutor’s office, I was freed from the labour camp established at the Csolnok coal mines. After my release, my wife and I did not think about leaving the country, as radio broadcasts guaranteed several times per day that the government had no plans to harass the former political prisoners any further, especially considering that most of the cases were based on abuses committed by the state.

We believed in your words, Mr. Kádár. Unfortunately, the initial decision and promise suffered changes and on January 27th, 1957, I discovered that there was a warrant for my arrest. That’s why I left the country the next day. Naturally, I left alone. As a result of the closed borders, I could not risk crossing the frozen waters with my children.

Why is a child made to pay the price for the alleged sins of her father, and over the course of her entire life?

I use the word “alleged,” because to this day, I do not see myself as guilty of any crime, even if I did participate–in a purely philosophical sense–in a conspiracy. The philosophical underpinnings of this effort, as uncovered by the authorities, were the following notes: “If Hungary’s current regime falls, as a result of external or internal factors, we must–according to our modest gifts and knowledge– help lift to power a new direction that will return our nation to democracy.”

I was sentenced, because between 1949 and 1952, I dared to criticize the errors of the day and because I did not feel that the direction at the time was democratic. This was my sin and it is because of this that I was torn away from my family six years ago. This is why my children are growing up without a father and this is why they can never become doctors, engineers or teachers. We cannot call this anything other than modern-day oppression.

Today, in the atomic era, when the great powers are exploring space, when they are working on conquering the moon, nobody is hearing or noticing the small, yet deep family tragedies. In our century, while scientists are spending millions on their research, in order to perfect human medicine, politicians are driving families to madness, because one cannot cross man-made state borders.

Despite every human depravity, I simply cannot believe that it is impossible to improve upon this situation. I cannot give up on my family and we still have a small flicker of hope that we might find someone in this corrupt world, within whom the sense of humanity and parenthood may rise and who might help us.

…Someone who could help us, before it isn’t too late to take the rearing of our children into a father’s hands.

Since I am not familiar with the higher art of writing, I express myself using simple words, but with all the more passion and with hope, as I ask the world’s powers to help us.

Frank Oszlanszky
1256 Nelson St.
Vancouver, BC

June 9, 1961


  1. Memories. Hmmm …. Scary indeed when I see that fences are built around Hungary again and soon possibly all over in the EU, as if there were no better or safer solution for that exodus. I hope those days will never come back. That’s what my heart says. When I think of it, I am not so sure. I understand better now, Chris, why you do this and run this site. Good luck for the future. Won’t be easy, though.

  2. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    A sad story, but at least one with a happy ending. The challenge of building a just and civil society based on the rule of law, and respect for human and civil rights was bravely confronted by Hungarians in 1956, as in 1848, only to be foiled by external interventions. Unfortunately, these days, as during the interwar years between 1920-1945, Hungary’s own political elite is leading the way towards the eradication of civil rights and the rule of law. One can only hope that the time will come one day, when not only the foreign but the domestic barriers to democratic governance will fall in Hungary. The HFP is indeed one of the organs that is dedicated to the hastening of that day. Though I’m sure it did not occur to him at the time, Mr Adam’s grandfather made a very important step towards that goal when he crossed into Austria from Hungary under the cover of the night in January, 1956.

  3. Avatar Charlie London says:

    Preventing your Grandfather’s family from joining him was not because it served the children’s best interest by “staying at home”.

    This was State-sponsored revenge no less – and control.

    It was compounded by hobbling his offsprings academic progress because they would not have been allowed to join KISS.

    If you weren’t a ‘good little communist’ in KISS, in the ‘happiest barrack’, you were prevented from any state education.

    Even in the 70s State-sponsored revenge – control – was still occurring. My partner’s aunt escaped Hungary to Italy in 1975 and it took three years before her eight years’ old daughter could join her. Deprived of motherly love from five years to eight years old at a crucial time in her development.

    Kadar control, control, control. And State-sponsored Revenge.

    Contrast this with Orban and family being ‘good little communists’; being high in the KISS hierarchy; hob-nobbing with the ‘elite’ equals and being allowed to travel. And spying on fellow Hungarians.

    Much of this ‘nepotism’ and thinking permeates Hungarian society today – and many I know yearn still for the Kadar years. Even if it was doomed to failure and bankruptcy because it couldn’t sustain the high borrowing and astonishing

    Orban’s Hungary harks back to this past more than ever – plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.

    Nothing like a democracy – just one in transition, stuck in transition and going nowhere.

    I call it a commocracy.

    And entirely capable of dishing out the revenge that your Grandfather suffered, Chris.

    A very poignant letter so eloquently and simply expressed.

    I hope it had a happy ending? I presume so because you have ‘made it’?

    • Avatar Charlie London says:

      Btw, Chris.

      Szolnok is nowhere near “North-West” Hungary, lying to the east of the Tisza river and south-east of Budapest.

      A much longer and dangerous journey if you are escaping from there rather than the north-west.

      Or is there another Szolnok? Or are you thinking pre-Trianon? (Still doesn’t compute!)

      • I believe it was Csolnok, not Szolnok Charlie.

        • Avatar Christopher Adam says:

          Hi Liz and Charlie,

          Thanks to both of you for your comments!

          It was, indeed, Csolnok. When I saw the name in my grandfather’s letter and as I was typing it up for publication online, I had to google the location myself, because I thought that there may have been a typo in his letter. But as it turns out, Csolnok is a village right near the Slovak border, in Komárom-Esztergom county…around 40 km northwest of Budapest.

  4. Thank you for sharing Chris, it brought back a flood of memories of my personal story that occured 2 decades later than your grandfather. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure that letters like this never reached Kádár. I too wrote letters to him pleading for a passport as we had our identifications taken and falsified upon arrival in Hungary in 1983, as my father never obtained his Canadian citizenship while here. The only one that did not was my mother as she had a Canadian passport and refused to give it up. All correspondence from us and to us was intercepted. Some we recieved, some we did not. It was a difficult and confusing time for us all, but with the help of the Canadian government, the Canadian media and my mothers hard work, spreading our plea accross Canada, we finally made it back to Canada in August 1987, and later my father made it back too, in November 1987. The communist regime was full of revenge even then, during a time in which it tried to portray a more positive and leniant image to the world and even Hungarians thought it was getting better. Lucky for us, by then the system was tired, broken, and financially broke.

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